The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther
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Steve Lawson is a pastor in Alabama. He is the author of numerous books including Famine in the Land, Foundations of Grace, and Pillars of Grace along with other biographical profiles.
Lawson’s account of Luther’s life is gripping and challenging for pastors and all Christians. Church leaders in America today easily crumble or compromise in the slightest hostile environment. I know very well the weakness in my own knees to stand faithful when God’s Word is not popular. God’s grace and examples like Luther strengthen Christians to be valiant in their devotion to Christ and pastors to be emboldened behind the pulpit.
Luther is credited as “the father of the Protestant Reformation” (2). The cornerstone of his “ministry was his bold biblical preaching” (3). Lawson quotes Luther saying, “Christ Himself wrote nothing, nor did He give command to write, but to preach orally” (3).
After a brief account of Luther’s early years and conversion, Lawson quickly jumps into Luther’s attack on the Roman Catholic Church and the counter attacks against him. Luther’s biblical preaching and teaching opened the eyes and hearts of his countrymen to the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. The primary error Luther addressed was that faith plus works leads to justification. Neither the works of the Law nor a church’s statutes justify a person in God’s sight (Rom 3:20, 28). Faith alone justifies a sinner (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; 4:5; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38) as an act of God’s grace (Rom 3:24; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:7). God, not man or religious institution, is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26, Italics added).
The father of the reformation gave his clarion call of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) and toto Scriptura (all Scripture). Luther translated the Bible into the tongue of the common people. He cried forth, “A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above pope or council” and that “for the sake of Scripture we should reject pope and council” (14-15). Luther was not merely putting on a bold face when it was safe, but refused to recant even when brought before leading Roman Catholic theologians and under threat of death and anathema from the Pope. Lawson comments that the reformation preacher “was firmly anchored to the impregnable rock of Scripture. The strength of his courage lay in the fact that Luther was unbending in his allegiance to the Bible” (25).
Luther was convinced that the Scriptures are to find a home in the pulpit asserting that, “The pulpit . . . is the throne for the Word of God”(26). The author lists “five core commitments” Luther held regarding the Scriptures: (a) the Bible is divinely inspired (28-31); (b) the Bible is “pure and infallibly true” (31) being divinely inspired (31-33); (c) the Bible alone is the supreme authority and is not dependent on the Roman Catholic Church, pope, or councils (33-36); (d) the Bible has clarity (36-37); (e) “the Bible is entirely sufficient in what it teaches” (38) and lacks nothing God wants His people to know for life and godliness (38-40).
Luther entered the pulpit after long hours of study and “examination of the Scriptures” (44). He studied with humble submission to the Scriptures (45-48), deep intake of the Scriptures (48-50), applying the literal interpretation of the Scriptures (51-54), careful exegesis from the original languages (54-57), and with the Holy Spirit’s illumination (57-58).
Lawson asserts that Luther recognized that the primary duty of “a preacher of the gospel was to magnify the glory of God as supremely revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ” (71). In Luther’s last sermon, just before he died he preached, “The hearers must say: ‘We do not believe our pastor; [unless] he tells us of another Master, One named Christ. To Christ he directs us; what Christ’s lips say we shall heed. And we shall heed our pastor insofar as he directs us to this true Master and Teacher, the Son of God’” (74).
Luther models the example for every preacher and believer to “never equivocate or apologize for that which God had plainly spoken” (105). Luther stood on the principle that, “To God’s enemies I must also be an enemy, lest I join forces with them against God” (109). Lawson accentuates that Luther had heroic boldness and “was ready to preach the truth because he was ready to die for it” (111).
Reading Lawson’s treatment of Luther encourages pastors and Christians to hold to a high view of the Scriptures, a high view of God, and a high view of the pulpit even in the face of hostility and hatred (120). The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther is highly recommended.